Körber Network Foreign Policy – Field Trip to Korea

29 August to 4 September 2016

The Field Trip 2016 led members of the Körber Network Foreign Policy to Korea, or rather, to the southern part of the peninsula, the Republic of Korea. The aim of the trip was to get a deeper understanding of the security situation of the region on the ground and its implications and relevance for German and European foreign policy.

After a long flight, the first day of the Field Trip was mainly dominated by the topic of the division of the Korean peninsula. In the morning the participants drove to the Demilitarized Zone. Through prepared tank barriers and similar measures on the way, it already became increasingly obvious that the country was not in peace, but merely in an armistice with North Korea, which had been going on since 1953. Having arrived in the Demilitarized Zone, the group received a briefing on the current security situation, including the latest nuclear test, from a US General stationed there. Then the participants went into the Blue Barracks, while the North Korea side played praise songs on Kim Il-sung. After some explanations of the barracks and the procedures for their use, they drove to further points of view in the Demilitarized Zone.

In the afternoon, the group headed back to Seoul for an appointment in the Ministry of Defense where some impressions from the Demilitarized Zone about the constant level of threat South Korea is facing were reaffirmed. Subsequently, the group had meetings with Yu Kanosue from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul and Park Sokeel, Director of the NGO Liberty in North Korea, and discussed with each of them the humanitarian situation in North Korea and the situation of North Korean refugees in South Korea.

On the next day, the participants drove early in the morning to the Navy Base Jinhae in the southern part of Korea. There they visited the Submarine Command and spoke with various officials about the regional security situation in the East China Sea. Afterwards, the group visited the Buddhist Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, which is beautifully located on the rocky coast by Busan.

The participants of the Field Trip spend the whole following day in Seoul. The day started with a meeting with the Minister of the Ministry of the Unification, Prof. Dr. Hong Yong Pyo, who was very interested in German views on the topic of reunification and also explained various concepts applicable to Korea. Afterwards, the participants visited The Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Asan’s President, Prof. Dr. Hahm Chaibong, gave a lecture in which he not only explained the history of Korea and made the group understand why the situation is so tensed today, but also explained impressively the implications of the situation of Korea for the region itself and the entire world economy.

Following this enlightening experience, the group drove to a Town Hall Discussion with students of the Graduate School of International Studies of Yonsei University. There, the participants of the Field Trip engaged in an open exchange of opinions and views with Korean students. From the wide range of issues addressed, the members of the Körber Network Foreign Policy were particularly surprised that the imminent Brexit is viewed very closely and with great concern by the Korean side. The Korean students, in turn, explained to the Körber Network Foreign Policy their views on the debate about a possible reunification of the peninsula.

Afterwards, as the first foreign delegation ever, the group visited the newly founded Reconciliation and Healing Foundation which was established by the governments of Korea and Japan to deal with the issue of the Korean so-called “comfort women” in the Second World War. This long day was completed with an activity typical for Korea, which should not be missed during any stay there: Singing together in one of the numerous Norebangs (karaoke bars).

On the next and last day of the Field Trip, the group visited the Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul, accompanied by Prof. Hans-Alexander Kneider, a Korean professor who is also a mayor in a district in Seoul. He not only explained the palace's history, but also gave the group a very good overview of Korean culture and traditions as well as insights into the modern life and domestic politics of the country. A meeting with German Deputy Head of Mission Weert Börner ended the extremely diverse and informative days in Korea.